Smith: Don't let rudeness take over

At 4:34 p.m. June 26, I was exiting the parking lot of the Westcliff shopping center at 17th Street and Irvine Avenue in Newport Beach.

As I waited for traffic to clear before merging onto Irvine, I noticed two boys about 11 or 12 years old skateboarding on the sidewalk toward me.

About 10 feet from my car, one of the boys lost control of his skateboard and yelled an expletive. My car window was open, and I said loudly, "Hey! Watch your language!"

The boy was mortified. The corners of his mouth turned down, his entire body slumped, and he said, sincerely, "I'm sorry, sir. I'm sorry."

For exactly two seconds, I was pleased. The boy had done something unacceptable, had been called on it, and offered an immediate, polite and genuine apology.

Then his friend said, "Yeah, watch your (expletive) language."

Realizing the situation was hopeless, I drove away.

I am offering the details of this F-word exchange for two reasons.

First, I hope that there is a parent who may also be a reader and who may have reason to believe that his or her son was one of the two boys in this encounter. If so, I hope that parent will discipline his or her child.

The second reason for providing an account of the exchange is that it is proof of the decline of decorum in the area and in the nation.

In 2004, America witnessed Janet Jackson's phony "wardrobe malfunction" on live TV during the halftime show at the Super Bowl. Even though a female on the street may get arrested for exposing her bare breast, as Jackson did, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to reinstate the $550,000 fine issued against her and CBS by the Federal Communications Commission.

In February 2011, actor Melissa Leo dropped an F-bomb during the Oscar telecast. Backstage, she tried to apologize, but at least one interviewer told her, "I thought it was wonderful," and online columnist, Andrea Reiher, "…thought it was fairly wonderful too."

In February, pop singer M.I.A. gave her middle finger to the world during the Super Bowl halftime show without any consequence. To some, she is cool for having flipped us all off.

Countless other highly visible indecent incidents have occurred with no consequence. No, the solution is not to cancel the Super Bowl halftime show or the Oscars.

The solution is to speak up. When we remain silent, this is the behavior we get.

When we say nothing, we tell the miscreants that it's OK to do whatever they want, whenever they want, even in front of kids. Perhaps you think this crude behavior and disgusting language is OK — after all, in France they laugh at us over this stuff, don't they?

If so, you can write me off as just some older, out-of-touch guy pining for the good old days. That's the easy way out.

The hard way means actually putting your foot down but that might make you uncomfortable, so you keep quiet. But the longer you keep quiet, the more you increase the chances that one day your personal line of propriety will be crossed and by that time, it will be too late.

As we celebrate Independence Day, we celebrate our freedom. That freedom comes with a heavy responsibility that used to be assumed. We used to assume that people would not expose themselves in public or drop F-bombs any time they felt like it. That was a personal responsibility.

Today, however, when anything goes, the responsibility has shifted to you. If you see something, say something. If you see something and don't say something, don't ever complain to me about how rude and crude America has become, including, in particular, two boys on skateboards.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to

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